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Augustin v. Jablonsky (In re Nassau Cty. Strip Search Cases) - 461 F.3d 219 (2d Cir. 2006)

Rule:

Because the predominance analysis tests whether the class is a "sufficiently cohesive" unit, all factual or legal issues that are common to a class inform the analysis. In turn, an issue is common to the class when it is susceptible to generalized, class-wide proof. In order to meet the predominance requirement a plaintiff must establish that the issues in the class action that are subject to generalized proof, and thus applicable to the class as a whole, predominate over those issues that are subject only to individualized proof. That the class-wide proof comes in the form of a simple concession rather than contested evidence certainly shortens the time that a court must spend adjudicating the issue, but it does nothing to alter the fundamental cohesion of the proposed class, which is the central concern of the predominance requirement. Similarly, the fact that an issue is conceded or otherwise resolved does not mean that it ceases to be an "issue" for the purposes of predominance analysis. Even resolved questions continue to implicate the "common nucleus of operative facts and issues" with which the predominance inquiry is concerned. 

Facts:

The Nassau County Correctional Center's ("NCCC") had a blanket strip search policy for newly admitted, misdemeanor detainees. Plaintiffs Gardy Augustin and others, who were strip searched pursuant to the policy, sued the NCCC, the county, its sheriff, and others, challenging the strip search policy. The District Court for the Eastern District of New York denied their repeated motions for class certification on the ground that individual issues predominated over common ones. Plaintiffs requested Rule 23(b) certification solely on the issue of liability, as permitted by Rule 23(c)(4)(A), and defendants, led by the sheriff of Nassau County, Joseph Jablonsky, conceded their liability. The district court expressed doubt over whether it could certify such a class since it had already determined that the claims failed the predominance test. The district court further reasoned that the concession removed common liability issues from the predominance analysis and that individual liability issues predominated. Plaintiffs appealed the orders of the district court.

Issue:

Did the district court err by denying the motion for class certification on the issue of liability?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The federal appellate court held that the district court could certify a class on a particular issue, such as liability, regardless of whether the class claims, as a whole, satisfied the predominance test. The court found that the district court erred when it excised common liability issues from its predominance analysis due to some defendants' concession. The court further found that the district court abused its discretion in denying the motion for certification on the issue of liability, particularly as the common liability issue was pervasive, individualized liability issues were de minimus, and a class suit was the most fair and efficient method of resolving the case.

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